Wings of Redemption
Chapter 4 — Part 3 — Undeath’s Door
(AKA The Obsidian Portal)
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“Yes, let us,” Asëa said, as Miithi cast Mage Armor on Eruanna.
Flinn pushed the door open slowly. In the flickering light from the torch, Asëa could see…. She had to blink to make sure her eyes were not playing tricks on her. What looked like corpses stood in the room, moving slowly, with complete skeletons standing nearby, turning their empty eye-sockets towards them. Asëa had never seen anything like it. Bringing back the dead was one thing, but these were… abominations. There as no other word to describe them, these mockeries of life. For the first time in her life, Asëa felt no compassion as she nocked an arrow and took aim, drawing the green-dyed feathers back to her cheek. Whatever these creatures — these things — were, they needed to be destroyed. Now.
She took aim at the nearest of the skeletons, and let the arrow fly. It struck the thing’s ribs, lodging fast for a moment before tumbling to the ground. The monstrosity did not even seem to notice. She could not ask Eruanna to attack the things, whatever they were. Just the very thought of them, corpses reanimated in this cruel parody of life, made her feel sick. She whistled softly, her lips quivering with rage, and Eruanna landed next to Miithi, making herself seem as large as she could. She could almost sense her unease. They both knew that something about the monsters was simply wrong, unnatural.
One of the skeletons groaned — Asëa wondered how it managed that — and advanced, the others following, shambling forward on lifeless feet. Asëa had never felt so outraged. How could such abominations even exist! Ehlenestra, lend me your strength!
Boots healed himself, and Asëa glanced at him. He did not seem at all surprised to see such hideous monstrosities. Then again, he rarely seemed to notice what was going on. She turned her head to look at the others. Even Miithi seemed only slightly uneasy. Flinn looked ready to fight them, but it seemed none of them felt her outrage at their very existence. Miithi cast a spell and shot two small bolts of force at the nearest skeleton. It crumbled into a pile of bones as they smashed into its ribs and spine. Asëa could not help but smile.
She started to reach for another arrow, but stopped. She doubted they would be of much use. Taking her sprig of holly in her hand, she instead cast a spell, beginning with the Fog Cloud she had prepared that morning. She altered the energy as she cast the spell, concentrating on the most destructive element she could think of, the roaring blaze of a forest fire. A fire elemental materialized between one of the rotting corpses, and smashed into the monstrosity. Asëa could smell the sickly sweet smell of burning flesh as flames licked around its head, even after the elemental pulled away.
The horrors swarmed the fire elemental, and Asëa smiled again. The Fire Elemental could not actually be hurt, thanks to the summoning spell, but its fire was very real. One of the skeletons caught fire along with a pair of the corpses, and several others looked severely singed for their attacks. Boots started to edge forward, before noticing that she still held her bow. Glancing around, he instead stepped behind Eruanna, gripping his hammer. At least he realized not to step in front of her, as she drew another arrow, this time aiming at one of the walking corpses. Before she could loose, Miithi shot another pair of magic missiles, causing another of the skeletons to collapse into a pile of bones.
She let the arrow fly, and it hit the nearest corpse squarely in the chest. It did not seem to notice the arrow protruding from its heart. Sighing audibly, she let her bow-arm drop to her side. Her arrows would be useless, it seemed. Boots edged past her, protecting her from the corpses.
Most of them attacked the fire elemental again. Another of the corpses caught on fire, and the others all looked burned now from their repeated contact with the flames.
Miithi cast the spell again, causing the last skeleton to fall apart into a pile of unmoving bones, but the other bolt, aimed at one of the corpses, seemed not to do anything.
“Hey, so… if they’re on fire…” Flinn asked hesitantly, ”...won’t they burn us if they attack? How long do you think that elemental will last?”
“Not much longer,” Asëa said, thinking. “Just a few more seconds.”
“Should we fall back?” Flinn asked. “Being on fire is unpleasant. I’ll cover you guys if you want to move.”
“You may if you wish,” Asëa said, trying to suppress her anger. “I do not intend to let these… abominations stand for one instant longer than I absolutely have to.” She thought she kept most of the heat from her voice.
Flinn mumbled something under his breath, but Miithi talked over him. “Can you summon any more of those elementals after that one vanishes? This seems to be a rather effective tactic.”
“I am afraid not,” Asëa said, shouldering her bow. “That is the last spell I can use of that power. I can summon an animal, but I do not think it will do very much against these… things.” She drew the dagger that she wore at her waist. She doubted her staff would do much good against the corpses, so that left only her dagger. She did not advance just yet, the fire elemental would vanish soon and Flinn was quite right, being on fire was an experience she did not wish to suffer again today. “Perhaps once the fire goes out, I will see if Eruanna will attack them, but she looks frightened to me.”
The fire elemental attacked the corpses one last time in a shower of flames and sparks, before vanishing in a flash of light and puff of smoke. The remaining corpses burned, giving off fitful light in the dim cave. Seemingly at a loss, they advanced on Asëa and the others, but stopped short, near the statues.
“Here we go!” Flinn said. “A horde of flaming zombies….” Asëa did not recognize the word. “THis seems like a nightmare I had once.” Nor that one. She would have to study common more, now that she had reason to use it.
A few tense seconds passed, but the… zombies… did not come closer, though they groaned menacingly. Finally, the last of the flames flickered and died. “I do not think they are on ire anymore….” she said, casting Guidance on Flinn. “And I do not think they will come any closer.”
“Can we pick them off from here?” Miithi asked, at the same instant Flinn said “What’s going on…?”
“My arrows do not seem to have any effect,” Asëa said, answering Miithi’s question. She edged forward, gripping her dagger tightly. She had never used it as a weapon before. “I suggest we attack them. They are an abomination.”
Flinn nodded, putting his scythe away and drawing his lance. He edged forward delicately, and Asëa stifled a sigh. This was progressing much too slowly. If they did not attack soon….
“Well, shall we inch forward?” Miithi asked, nodding at Flinn. “We seem to be out of options….”
“Yes, let us,” Asëa said, unable to restrain herself any longer.
One of the zombies moaned loudly, and Flinn stabbed it with his lance, but it seemed to have little effect. “Okay, I guess I have to get more aggressive,” Flinn said slowly.
“Boots, if you move back, I will see if my spear has any effect on these zombies,” Miithi said. She would have to ask what a zombie was later, it seemed the others had all heard of such things before. Boots nodded. Asëa itched to move forward, to attack, to destroy these hideous monstrosities, but she doubted the others would approve. They seemed to think she was far too fragile to do anything alone. As if she did not know that she did not wear armor like Flinn or Boots!
Miithi stabbed past her with his spear, and although it cut into the zombie’s arm, it seemed not to notice the blow.
Flinn dropped his lance, drawing the scythe once more and advancing. Asëa smiled. Finally, Asëa thought, stepping forward as well. The eyes of the statues inside the room glowed with black light. Asëa felt a momentary tingling sensation, but nothing seemed to happen. Flinn missed, but Asëa pressed forward, slashing the nearest zombie with her dagger. The zombie seemed to notice that, and Asëa smiled. The zombie swung clumsily at her, but she danced out of its reach easily. Another zombie slammed its fist against Flinn’s armor, but Flinn did not look hurt.
Miithi stabbed past her with his longspear again, and although the spear pierced the zombie’s chest deeply, it still did not seem to notice the blow. Flinn swung his scythe at the zombie attacking him again, and cut it nearly in half. It stood for a moment, before collapsing to the ground in a pile of rotting filth. Asëa slashed at the zombie in front of her again, carving a chunk off its side.
The remaining zombies stepped forward, swinging their arms awkwardly. Asëa dodged their clumsy blows easily, but Flinn was not so lucky, as he recoiled slightly from one of their blows. “Dammit!” he said.
“Back up so they can’t get to us so easily!” Miithi said.
“They came closer than they did before,” Asëa pointed out. “I think whatever was holding them back is gone.” A part of Asëa was glad. She had no intention of retreating even a single step. Miithi reached forward cautiously, and cast Mage Armor on her. “Thank you,” she said, shifting the dagger in her hand slightly. Flinn attacked again, but missed. She did not see how that was possible, in the press of zombies with such a large weapon.
This was going far too slowly. She whistled for Eruanna to attack, but as she had half-expected, she refused to attack the unnatural beasts. She did not blame her for her fear, they were hideous beasts. Flinn stepped back as she swung her dagger at the nearest zombie. She was surprised when she missed it, and she glanced at Flinn. “Are we retreating, Flinn?”
“Yeah, lets,” he replied, swinging his scythe again before edging further back. The scythe bit deeply into the nearest zombie, but did not halt its advance.
Asëa sighed, and took a single step backwards. “But that is as far as I will go,” she said, setting her feet as the zombies advanced further, groaning. They stopped again, just before reaching the statues. “That is as far as they will go, it seems,” Asëa said, springing forward with her dagger. The statues glowed again, but Asëa ignored the tingling sensation. She stumbled on an even patch of the floor, however, and missed her mark again. She tried whistling for Eruanna one last time, but was not surprised when she glanced at the zombies and shied away from them. I am sorry, my friend, she thought. I should not have asked.
Miithi stabbed at one of the zombies again, and gain it seemed to completely ignore the spear as it pieced its flesh.
Flinn stepped forward, but this time, when the statues’ eyes glowed again, Flinn seemed deeply shaken. When he swung his scythe, he missed entirely, and seemed to shrink back from the zombie. Asëa sighed, but had to duck abruptly as one of the zombies swung its arm at her. She dodged another attack easily, as Flinn ducked a third. Miithi stabbed his spear at one of the zombies, but missed horribly. Flinn swung his scythe again, and missed again. Whatever the statues had done seemed to have affected him greatly, but there wasn’t time to figure out how to counter it yet. Dancing forward, she slashed at the nearest zombie with her dagger, carving into it easily. Miithi did not have so much luck, completely missing once again.
Flinn swung his scythe at the same zombie she was attacking, and sliced it cleanly in half. It collapsed, and Asëa stepped forward, slashing the next zombie. It was only a glancing blow, but it still cost the zombie a chunk of its arm. Miithi stabbed again, and hit, but the zombie did not seem to care about the spear. Flinn swung again, and the scythe carved a deep furrow through the zombie’s side.
Two zombies attacked Flinn, and both hit him, but the wounds did not look severe. Flinn grunted. “This is taking forever!” he said, growling. Asëa attacked the nearest zombie, but the blow glanced off its thick hide. Miithi attacked again, and missed. Again. Asëa was starting to get annoyed, they never missed this much against living targets! Flinn attacked again, carving another zombie almost in twain, but it did not collapse. He stepped forward, and Boots stepped after him, finally swinging his hammer. It thudded into the zombie, but did not seem to harm it. Asëa realized with a start that the statues had not glowed that time. The horde of zombies attacked Flinn, but only one seemed to wound him.
Growing impatient, Asëa stepped up, slashing the zombie nearest her viciously. It collapsed, falling apart. Miithi, seeming encouraged, stabbed at a zombie and finally managed to wound the thing enough for it to notice. Flinn attacked the same zombie, and carved it to pieces. As it collapsed, Boots advanced, slamming his hammer into one of the remaining zombies, but it did not seem to cause any damage.
The zombies attacked them again. Asëa watched as one caught Flinn just below his armor, and before she could react, another zombie slammed its fist into her side. The blow stung, and she missed her retaliatory stroke with her dagger. Miithi attacked again, but could not repeat his earlier success. Flinn, however, was not so unlucky and carved another zombie in half. Bots swung his hammer again, but it impacted only on the ground. The zombies attacked again, but Asëa easily dodged the blow, while Flinn dodged the one attacking him.
Asëa attacked again, but missed the zombie by an embarrassingly large margin. She just was not used to attacking in hand to hand combat. Miithi missed again. and distressingly so did Flinn. Boots, however, finally landed a telling blow. The zombie attacked flinn again, crashing its fist off his side. Flinn grunted again, staggering. Asëa slashed the same zombie, but could not pierce its rotting hide.
Miithi missed again, but Flinn carved a large chunk out of the thigh of one of the remaining zombies. Boots missed again, and Asëa, watching him, suffered another blow from a zombie for her distraction. This time, her return stroke bit a chunk out of the zombie’s arm, and Miithi managed to wound the other zombie. Flinn attacked the same zombie, but the blow was not as strong as his other attacks had been. Boots slammed it with his hammer again, and Asëa heard the sickening crunch of breaking bones.
Asëa slashed at the nearest zombie again, and missed, barely. She was starting to get annoyed, this had dragged on far too long. These abominations should have been destroyed long ago. Miithi attacked again, and again failed to cause enough damage for the zombie to notice. Boots, likewise, missed, and another zombie pummeled Asëa before she could dodge. Flinn took another blow to the chest, but Asëa stepped forward, slashing the zombie in front of her. The zombie collapsed, whatever magics that had been holding it together dissipating. Miithi missed the one of the remaining zombie, and Asëa could not dodge as it attacked her for the spear. Their constant pummeling was taking its toll on her, but she refused to let up in the face of the foul monsters.
Flinn swung his scythe again, and nearly severed the zombie’s arm with his scythe. Boots missed again, but Asëa took advantage of his swing to move around the zombie without it noticing. She slashed at its flank, her dagger biting deep into its rotten side. Flinn stepped to the side of one of the other zombies, slicing it half at the waist. Boots swing at the zombie in front of him, causing it to stagger back in shock. It recovered, and slammed its fists into her side again, causing her to grunt with pain. Asëa whistled for Eruanna to come, suddenly worried that she might need her friend’s protection, before slashing fiercely at the last remaining zombie. The dagger plunged deep into its side, and the last zombie collapsed into a pile of rotting flesh and bone. Panting slightly, Asëa glanced uneasily around the room. Whatever had created these hideous creatures might still be in the caves.
“Whew, finally!” Flinn said, grounding the handle of his scythe.
“That was challenging to say the least,” Miithi said, panting.
Boots walked to her slowly, and cast Cure Light Wounds on her, ridding her of much of her pain. “Thank you,” she said, glancing around the room again. The room was scorched severely, but the scorches seemed to radiate outward from the back wall. She noticed a large imposing altar in the center of the room, and many strange decorations lining the walls.
“Okay, this room’s definitely worth checking out,” Flinn said. “We just have to go about it carefully.”
“The statues, especially,” Asëa said, moving to take a closer look at them. They were finely carved from some smooth black stone. They were very highly polished, and appeared to be reptilian, just like the zombies and most of the corpses, but somehow more grotesque. Not finding anything of interest, she stood next to Miithi, examining the alter. There was blood on it, splashed over strange symbols.
“Hey, I found a door!” Flinn said. Asëa left the altar to go inspect the door. On a whim, she pushed it open. She wanted to be out of this room as quickly as she could. “Hey, wait!” Flinn practically yelled in her ear. She ignored him. “Don’t—!”
Miithi and Boots followed her. “It is very badly burned in here,” she said, walking further in. She could see another stone door, this one not locked.
Flinn sighed. “Well, if everyone’s going in…” he said, grumbling.
Asëa hurried to the other door, and pushed it open. There were several piles of items, and a pair of chests inside. Asëa sighed, although she was not sure what else she had expected. The others seemed excited, so Asëa waited outside, leaning against the wall. Eruanna flapped up onto the head of her staff, and she stroked the eagle’s feathers affectionately. After several minutes, the others came out of the room, loaded down with bags of gear. Asëa took her share of the load, and led the advance down the hallway. She rounded a corner, and a glowing red snake-like thing burst from the wall in front of her. It was about a foot across, and seemed to be… molten, almost.
Flinn drew his scythe and advanced on the… serpentine thing.
“Wait,” Asëa called after him, “why do you always….” She sighed, and drew her bow just in case it attacked. Surprisingly, Flinn seldom seemed to misjudge when force would be necessary. But that does not mean he will always be right!
The creature burst entirely out of the wall, perhaps five feet long. Flinn swung his scythe off it, barely piercing the creatures rock-like hide. The creature seemed hurt, but it lunged at Flinn. Sighing, she nocked and released her arrow. She missed horribly, but breathed a sigh of relief when the fiery serpent missed Flinn. Miithi advanced on it with his spear, but missed entirely. Boots charged the thing, slamming it mercilessly with his hammer. It shuddered one before collapsing, curling protectively into a spiral and twitching slightly.
Flinn started to swing his scythe, but Asëa rushed to his side, screaming, “Wait, do not—!” He stopped the scythe inches away from the creature.
“Please, do not kill it!” she said.
“There is no reason to kill it! It did not even hurt any of us! It is just defending its home.”
Flinn slowly raised his scythe. Asëa nodded, and walked to the corner at the end of the passage.
“Do what you must,” Flinn said. “Boots, toss me one of those red potions.” Asëa heard the clink of glass on metal gauntlets, before Flinn continued. “Well, no idea what these do. Down the hatch!” After a pause, she heard him say, “Tasty….”
Around the corner, Asëa saw another one of the fiery slimes. She hesitated, they were all severely wounded. “Hmm, the last one of those was rather strong,” she said. “Perhaps we should retreat for now, and come back in the morning? We probably will have to deal with the ants on the way out again, after all.”
“No shame in that,” Flinn said.
“I would be much more helpful with my full repertoire of spells…” Miithi said. Yet another word I will have to learn, Asëa thought with a sigh. She supposed it must mean something like “collection.”
“Likewise,” she said, backing away slowly. They slowly walked back to wards the cave entrance, but the cavern seemed empty now. The only movement Asëa saw was the pair of weasels. She tossed them another large chunk of jerky as they walked out into the afternoon sun.
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